‘Man of God’ Review: Bolanle Austen-Peters almost saved this film

To quote a random Twitter user, “story is everything.”

If I was in the movie IT, this would happen:

But when Man of God opened its prayer fest with “Oh Lord, let the aeroplane of enemy crash into the sea,” I wanted to pack my things and get out of there like any 5-year-old who realizes they’ve been lured in by candy, now they in the sewers with nowhere to go. Mommy! Help!!! But Bolanle Pennywise Peters whips out another candy in the form of more beautiful visual features and I stopped calling for mommy. Maybe this woman is not that bad after all. I’ll follow her down the sewers. Candy is life.

Man of God is a visual meal about my namesake, Samuel (Akah Nnani), a pastor’s son, who keeps toeing the line between waywardness and redemption and we track his journey from little pastor’s boy who skips church to university undergraduate who always has a cigarette on his lips. Um, maybe that’s an oversimplification of a 2-hour tale that’s supposed to be about a soul trapped between “the world” and the Christian faith. Let’s try this again.

Samuel leads an afrobeat band in the university that takes inspiration from Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti, down to its wardrobe and choreography. He is even dubbed Abami, one of Fela’s monikers, yet his act is more Dbanj than Fela. His dancer girlfriend, Reks, who loves the band more than he does constantly goes out to “hustle” so they can expand their set. She drops out as soon as she is able to purchase her own home and plans to leave the country to continue more “hustling”. We get it, she’s the bad example.

Actually, the film highlights one pivotal moment in the beginning that might have led to all this. You see, Samuel was a stubborn kid growing up, like most 10-15 year old boys. His dad would beat him repeatedly, like most Nigerian parents who will never “spare the rod” and “spoil the child”. Samuel’s mum would plead on his behalf like most of our sweet loving mothers when they are not the ones holding the cane. Samuel would have marks and wounds on his back after a thorough beating. Like most — you get the point now. And Samuel would threaten to leave his house and never return. Like most of us did once or twice. Some of us actually put our things together in a Bagco bag in an attempt to leave… but WE. NEVER. ACTUALLY. LEFT. We never actually left our house, pick up a smoking habit, start an afro band and become the most famous black sheep in UNILAG. We never actually carried out our childhood threats. Bolanle Austen-Peters, it appears, seems to be spinning probable scenarios on a wheel of fortune. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Samuel is just a special case. Let’s see.

In my opening words, I mentioned an utterly ridiculous prayer point. See, I’ve heard worse. In real life. But putting that at the beginning of a film sends a mixed message: Are we ridiculing the church or we still don’t know how satirical jokes work? That’s a problem because Nollywood is plagued with the existential problem of bridging the gap between satire and uncalculated exaggerations. (Your Excellency, which I reviewed here, understood exactly what kind of film it wanted to be, and that cinematic honesty, not trying to be a serious drama when all you want to do is make Shaggi dance in the middle of the street, is very much appreciated). Let’s be clear about what we’re getting ourselves into.

MOG abandons the aeroplane prayers as soon as it casts it and soon we are breezing through what might be a redemption arc for Samuel. But that redemption plays peek-a-boo with the audience because the film keeps restarting itself and switching themes after every single time jump (and there were a lot of time jumps).

Sam, like all true Samuels, falls in love with Joy, a church girl, fellowship executive and final year student at the expense of Teju, his best friend who introduced him to Joy and has been bringing him materials from classes he missed. Does this look like something that will address the lucrativeness of the church business, drugs and human organ trafficking in Nigeria? With every time jump, we are transported into a new Samuel adventure and Akah Nnani’s outstanding performance is the sole compensation for this indecisiveness.

Man of God checks all the technical boxes from visuals to cinematography. That streak is stained by the film’s obsession with lip-synching: even a 20-second praise and worship in a small church has to be a pre-recorded track. It’s as if the film doesn’t trust itself enough. One time (this is intentionally vague in order to prevent spoilers), Nnani plays a pastor and he’s both a reverend from a black church and a Nigerian Bishop. The film wants to be everything in one. It even tries to slip in a moral lesson at the end of its tale, and I came to a conclusion I couldn’t shake off: MOG is a Mount Zion film on steroids. As a Christian, that’s a step in the right direction (rich characters, visual aesthetics and a clear direction). As a film writer and critic, this is just an expensive attempt to please everybody. And I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing. For a film where its director makes a cameo to announce her full name, this was still a very entertaining watch. But you can’t just lure me into the sewers with candy and start showing me all the flavours of candy you have. Like what’s happening? Am I being kidnapped or not? What is going on here?

As I walk out of this film unhurt, unbruised, unkidnapped, there’s only one thing I can tell you: Bolanle Austen Peters has some of the best candies and all she wants is for you to see them. It’s worthy to note that the film has some impressive set designs and consider me in love with its aesthetic appeal.

But the story, however easy to follow, crumbles under the heavy weight of the other elements that were meant to complement it. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a bit amateurish.

6/10.

Okiki Adeduyite

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